Oh look, another sonnet (1.5.144-157), aka [2.0]

CHORUS         Now old desire doth in his death-bed lie,

                        And young affection gapes to be his heir;

                        That fair for which love groaned for and would die,

                        With tender Juliet matched is now not fair.

                        Now Romeo is beloved, and loves again,

                        Alike bewitchèd by the charm of looks;

                        But to his foe supposed he must complain,

                        And she steal love’s sweet bait from fearful hooks.

                        Being held a foe, he may not have access

                        To breathe such vows as lovers use to swear,

                        And she as much in love, her means much less

                        To meet her new-belovèd any where:

                        But passion lends them power, time means, to meet,

                        Temp’ring extremities with extreme sweet.

The current Cambridge edition tacks this on to the end of Act 1; Arden 3 helpfully identifies it as [2.0]. Whatever it’s called, it is – as editors point out – commonly omitted in performance. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it. Why’s it there, then? Written to cover action? Possibly. It’s not going to take Juliet long to get to the upper stage (although there are perhaps also musicians to get out of it?), but one possibility might just be that there’s a prop tree or trees to get on, given the references to trees and the orchard in the scene which follows. I’m pretty uncommitted to this suggestion, but it’s a possibility. Just.

It’s certainly not as good as the Prologue. But it’s doing some interesting things, over and above reminding the audience of the story so far, as well as what’s about to happen next. There’s the contrast of youth and age (a glance back at Capulet’s gallantries, old desire?) and the language of inheritance, again, even in the metaphor describing Romeo’s change of heart. Fair is used to refer to Rosaline, but she’s unnamed, gone, simply a place holder now that Romeo’s love for someone else is requited – and that requital is there in matched, again, alike, as well as in the formal structures of the sonnet. Romeo’s not going to complain to Juliet, in the modern sense, but rather speak plaintively. (I think it’s interesting that foe, repeated twice here, picks up the Romeo / only / known / loathed assonance from the lines.) It is, obviously, a sonnet (maybe Shakespeare was just doodling them at this point? any hint of downtime, there’s a sonnet), so its compression, especially in the strongly alliterative penultimate line and the chiastic last line, gathers together at least some of the energies of the first act. It’s a moment of rest, perhaps, but it’s a dynamic pause, because – again – we know that something is about to happen, a sweet meeting. The language of extremity in the final line is important, and ironic: the desperation of the circumstances can indeed be overcome and alleviated, but the solution may itself go too far.



View 3 comments on “Oh look, another sonnet (1.5.144-157), aka [2.0]

  1. Thank you so much for your blog – I am preparing to teach R&J, and finding your commentary so exciting and refreshing – not so mention full of good sense!
    Is it possible this second chorus isn’t by Shakespeare?? It’s so disappointing, reminds me of the Hecate bits in Macbeth – it just jumps out as being very different, very ho-hum.

    1. I’m so pleased you find it useful! (I’ve just sent off my new intro for the New Cambridge Shakespeare edition, but it’ll be *months* before that’s out…) I don’t think anyone’s ever argued that the second chorus passage isn’t by Shakespeare – but it’s almost always cut in performance… It’s functional, I guess?! telling us what’s going on in a rather heavy-handed way that we’re not used to. It’s not impossible that there were lots more of this sort of thing in early modern plays – but they don’t make it into print, because (like a lot of prologues and epilogues) they’re occasional and temporary – so you write one for performance at court, another version for the first performance, another version for a benefit performance etc. Maybe this was a functional kind of thing that got attached to the text permanently almost by accident?! Maybe one way of thinking about it, too, is that it gives us a rather clunky sonnet (I mean, it’s perfectly fine!) that contrasts both with the shared sonnet in 1.5, AND with the really fluid, transcendent lyrical verse of the balcony scene? like, here’s something earthbound? good luck for the start of the new year….

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